The twelfth annual Morinville Fire Department’s Combat Challenge on this weekend

Morinville Firefighter Joshua Cust drags a 200-pound rescue mannequin during the 2023 Firefighter Combat Challenge. Cust, a multiple-time winner of the event, took first place in the masters’ division with an obstacle course time of 1:38:46. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

by Stephen Dafoe

Rushing into a burning building to save lives and fight fires is a serious enterprise requiring a proper mixture of skill and stamina, something few people see close up. But this weekend’s Morinville Festival Days provides attendees with the unique opportunity to see firefighters from Morinville and the area putting those skills to the test during the Morinville Fire Department’s Combat Challenge.

The Morinville Fire Department is once again hosting its annual Firefighters Combat Challenge. This year’s event is on Saturday, June 15, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Morinville Leisure Centre as part of Morinville Festival Days.

For four hours on Saturday, firefighters will go through an obstacle course that tests many of their firefighting skills and demonstrates that the occupation is challenging, even with countless hours of training.

Morinville Fire Chief Brad Boddez said the purpose of the obstacle course is to simulate anything job-related.

“I think it is good for the public to see what we do. They will see how we do the hose advance and what it takes to do the job that we have to do when we are called upon,” Boddez said. “Even though it is a bit of a sporting format, it is reflective of the things that we have to actually do when we fight fires.”

Dressed in full gear, competitors start the course by carrying a packed fire hose on their back up four flights of stairs, where they drop the pack and use a rope to haul another bundled fire hose from the ground up to the top floor. Upon completing that task, each firefighter must return to ground level, ensuring their feet touch each step in the four-storey scaffold structure. On the ground, competitors drive a concrete block a distance of one foot using a sledgehammer, an exercise replicating the exertion needed for a forced entry. Next, the firefighter manoeuvres around a set of pylons to grab a fully charged fire hose, drag it back across the arena floor obstacle course and let loose on a target. The firefighters then exchange the heavy hose for an equally heavy rescue dummy, dragging the 200-pound dead weight across the arena floor lot to reach the finish line.

Competitors will showcase their skills in three divisions: Men’s, Women’s and Master’s categories.

Boddez said the Department is particularly excited about this year’s event because it is the biggest Combat Challenge in the Department’s 12 years of hosting.

This year’s event has a full roster of competitors at 52, slightly topping 2023’s total, which had been their best in the event’s history. “There is an incredible representation from around the province,” Boddez said. “We have 15 different towns and cities coming. Everywhere from within our own region with Morinville, Sturgeon and Legal to Hinton, Beaumont, Spruce Grove, Lac La Biche and Bonnyville. They’re coming from all over.”

Boddez attributed the event’s increasing success to word spreading among the firefighters. “It’s such a great event for the camaraderie between the departments,” he said, noting Hinton has attended for most of the 12 years the event has run. They really enjoy it, and I think the word just kind of spreads. We just keep building year after year after year.”

Boddez and the other organizers within the Morinville Fire Department hope to see a packed house once again for this year’s competition. “We love the support. We had a very good showing last year,” he said. “It’s good for them to see how well we work with other departments and the volunteers. I have over 43 volunteers just to run that show. We have departments in the area that come out and help with the setup and tear down. In Morinville, we are lucky to have a large roster, but we are happy to have that extra helping hand from some of the other departments that come and participate.

The event will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 15. Admission is free.

For a complete list of weekend activities, visit Morinville Festival Days – Town of Morinville

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